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How To Tell If A Lemon Is Ripe

You’ve probably heard the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But what if life gives you lemons that aren’t ripe yet?

Knowing how to choose ripe lemons can greatly enhance the taste of your dishes and drinks. Let’s delve into the different ways you can determine the ripeness of a lemon.

Ripe lemons on a dark background.

A ripe lemon is usually bright, glossy yellow, and medium to large in size. It should feel firm but slightly giving when lightly squeezed, and it should have a strong, zesty citrus aroma. The taste should be tangy and slightly sweet.

How To Tell If Lemons Are Ripe

Unlike some fruits, lemons do not continue to ripen after they have been picked. Their sugar content, a major factor in fruit ripeness, does not increase once they’re off the tree.

However, they can become softer and juicier if left at room temperature for about a week. This is not a process of ripening, but rather a result of the fruit losing its moisture content.

Always try to pick lemons that are ripe, as the fruit’s quality will not improve after harvest. Let’s dive into how to know if they are ripe by their characteristics.


A ripe lemon is usually bright, glossy yellow. An overripe lemon may have a dull color, and an unripe lemon could be green. A consistent, vibrant yellow color is your first sign of ripeness.


Generally, a ripe lemon should be medium to large in size. A small lemon may not have matured yet, while an excessively large one might be overripe.


Ripe lemons have a firm, yet slightly giving texture when lightly squeezed. If the lemon feels rock hard, it’s likely not ripe. If it’s squishy, it may be overripe.


Ripe lemons have a strong, zesty citrus aroma. A faint smell could indicate an unripe lemon, while no smell or an off odor could signify an overripe or bad lemon.


Ripe lemons should taste tangy and slightly sweet. Unripe lemons are sour, and overripe lemons may have a fermented taste.

ColorGreenVibrant YellowDull Yellow or Brown Spots
SizeSmallMedium to LargeExcessively Large
TextureVery HardFirm but slightly givingSquishy
SmellFaint or NoneStrong Citrus AromaOff Odor
TasteSourTangy and slightly sweetFermented

How To Use Ripe Lemons

Ripe lemons are incredibly versatile and can be used in numerous ways across different recipes and household tasks. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Cooking and Baking: Lemons add a bright, tangy flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. You can use the juice to marinate meats, create tangy salad dressings, or add some zest to baked goods. The zest can also add a punch of flavor to pasta, roasted vegetables, and desserts.
  2. Drinks: Lemon juice is a key ingredient in many cocktails, like the classic Lemon Drop or refreshing lemonade. Adding a slice of lemon to water can also make a refreshing drink and aid digestion.
  3. Preserves and Pickles: Lemons are often used in preserves and pickles. Preserved lemons, a staple in Moroccan cuisine, are made by pickling lemons in salt and their own juices.
  4. Cleaning: Lemons are a great natural cleaner due to their acidity. You can use lemon juice to clean and deodorize cutting boards, polish copper, and even brighten laundry whites.
  5. Beauty Routines: Lemons are sometimes used in beauty routines due to their natural acidity and antiseptic properties. They can be used for brightening skin, lightening hair, and even as a natural deodorant. However, be cautious and always dilute the juice, as lemon can be irritating to the skin, especially in the sun.
  6. Garnish: Sliced, twisted, or wedged, a piece of lemon can add a vibrant touch to both food and drink presentation.

Remember, always make sure your lemons are ripe before using them, as this will give you the best flavor and the most juice.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Tell if Lemons Are Ripe

Lemons have two main harvest seasons – winter and summer. Eureka and Lisbon lemons are mostly winter fruits, while Meyer lemons are common in summer.

Unlike some other fruits, lemons do not continue to ripen once picked, whether they’re stored in the fridge or left on the counter. However, they can become softer and juicier at room temperature. For longer preservation, it’s recommended to store them in the fridge.

While green lemons are not fully mature, they can still be used, but they will be more acidic and less juicy than ripe, yellow ones. For optimal flavor and juice content, it’s best to use lemons when they’re fully yellow.


Choosing ripe lemons doesn’t have to be a guessing game. By understanding the seasonality of lemons, observing their physical characteristics, and using your senses, you can confidently pick ripe lemons every time.

Once you know how to pick a ripe lemon, your culinary creations will sing. For more expert advice on fruit selection, check out our ultimate guide to fruit ripeness, where we share key tips for a variety of fruits.

To learn more about harvesting lemons check out this guide by US Citrus.

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